THE BLACK ARMBAND PROJECT
At the end of 1997, under popular pressure to apologise to Aboriginal people for the 20th century policy of removing aboriginal children from their families (‘the stolen generations’) Prime Minister John Howard repeatedly said he would not subscribe to a ‘black armband view of history.’ (armbands are worn in Australia as a public sign of mourning.)
It seemed appropriate to manifest the ongoing sorrows of Australia’s post-invasion history by creating actual, wearable black armbands in repudiation of willful amnesia. Conceived by long-term collaborator Liz Conor, I designed a series of three neoprene armbands in the Aboriginal colours. The armbands were a new version of the old political button- but more visible in the landscape; a poetic riposte to national whitewash.
We sold them for $5, attached to an ‘instant activist’ postcard, which purchasers then signed and sent to the Prime Minister stating their support for an official apology, and the threatened Wik legislation. The campaign was supported by Indigenous and non-Indigenous celebrities around the country- particularly musicians and comedians. With their help, the campaign launch was news in every capital city in Australia.
Nearly 25,000 were sold around Australia. The money raised went toward the costs of the Yorta Yorta people’s land rights claim over their ancestral country in Victoria.
People wore them in protest, to appear in the landscape, to have agency, to be sorry.